Pet retailers do you understand pet food ingredients?

Recently I had the honor of being one of the speakers in the Smart Zone sessions at the successful Total Pet Expo in Chicago in September 19 – 21, 2014.  The topics I spoke about were ‘Understanding pet food ingredients’ and the ‘Importance of Good Dental health (for your pet).’  The attendees in each session were primarily pet retailers of mom and pop stores, although we did have a few pet product manufacturers in the sessions who were pretty well informed about pet food ingredients and added a nice conversation to the sessions.

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Photo Credit: Pet Age Magazine

In speaking with many of the retailers, some of them knew about pet food ingredients and others didn’t really know at all – which from a teaching point of view is ok, they were there to learn.  I mentioned to them that they are on the front lines of being able to not only understand pet food ingredients but to help guide their customers to pet food products and help their customers when they are unsure.

I used to teach a responsible dog ownership class for 5 years, to humans only, and the #2 question in the class was ‘what should I feed my dog?’ (#1 question – can you guess? How can I teach my dog to go potty outside!)  

In teaching the responsible dog ownership class, I was always amazed that pet owners didn’t know more about what they were feeding their pets.  I might be bias to the topic in that I have been researching pet food, have been a label reader for years and have become very picky as to what I would feed my own pets.  And many people in the class were new to being pet parents so it was understandable to some degree.

For a pet owner and for a pet retailer the sea of pet foods that are available can be overwhelming these days.  What to feed your pet, what products to bring into your stores to sell, what avenue are you going to sell in – meaning only bringing in premium pet foods, only certain brands, offering raw – the task in figuring this out can be daunting. Maybe you have done some research and only want to offer certain types or brands of pet foods the change over from offering everything can be a tough sell to some of your customers.

Understand the pet food ingredients, having some training in pet nutrition and being well versed in what pet food you are selling – will help your bottom line.  Customers want to feel confident in what they are buying and if you do your due diligance in understanding what you are selling to them – it will bring them back and they will tell their friends.   As a store owner, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • If a customer comes in and asks you staff about certain pet food ingredients – do you or staff know how to answer their question? 
  • If you carry multiple products for all different pets – can you suggest a pet food to your customer with confidence that the ingredients are well suited for their pet?
  • Are you confident in knowing the ingredients in pet foods and feel comfortable answering your customers questions, or are you just trying to sell, sell, sell?  

 Some of the suggestions I offered to retailers to understand pet food ingredients and keep customers coming back to your store were: 

  • Have a veterinarian or pet food expert who is an expert in nutrition come to the store, off hours to educate yourself and your staff on different ingredients. Suggestion: Make this a quarterly class for you and your employees as new products with different ingredients come out.  (If you don’t have anyone in your area that offers this, do your research and see if you can find a webinar on the topic!) 
  • Make learning pet food ingredients part of new employee training. (Many store owners understand ingredients – but go there when the owner isn’t there and their staff usually doesn’t know what to suggest – I see this over and over again!) 
  • Have young or unmotivated staff in your store? Empower them by offering a reward system on who understands pet food ingredients the best!
  • Once your staff is trained about the ingredients of pet food, promote that your staff is trained that way to your customer. “Our staff is educated in pet nutrition by XYZ Veterinarian.” 
  • Bring in more customers by offering a pet food expert event in your store, ‘Ask the Pet Food Expert’ or a veterinarian, (who will not push one particular brand), but help answer questions as to what the food ingredients are for all pets, cats, dogs, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. And what each type of food (ingredients) their pet should be eating.

And last but not least if you have a sales rep for one particular brand that you like, but are unsure your customers will like, have the sales rep do a demo, give away free samples and speak directly to your customers about their product.  In my opinioin they should be able to answer your customers questions and should be happy and willing to do so – during store hours.  

And if you have yet to attend Total Pet Expo, it is a show you should put on your calendar for next year, being held: September 25-27, 2015.  At this year’s show thousands of qualified buyers attended Backer’s Total Pet Expo Fall Trade Show.  According to show organizers more than 5,600 registered buyers from 1,742 firms attended the three-day event!  For more pictures from the event, click here

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